University of Chicago physician named to Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Daniel Sulmasy, MD, PhD, the Kilbride-Clinton Professor of Medicine and Ethics in the Department of Medicine and the Divinity School, and Associate Director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, has been named to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

The Commission will "advise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology," with the goal of identifying and promoting policies and practices that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner.

"I am grateful that these impressive individuals have decided to dedicate their talent and experience to this important Commission," President Obama said. "I look forward to their recommendations in the coming months and years."

A Franciscan Friar as well as an ethicist and a practicing physician, Sulmasy studies end-of-life decision-making, ethics education and spirituality in medicine. He is the author of four books-The Healer's Calling (1997), Methods in Medical Ethics (2001; 2nd ed. 2010), The Rebirth of the Clinic (2006), and A Balm for Gilead (2006). He has written more than 140 peer-reviewed journal articles on topics such as the ethics of stem cell research, physician assisted suicide, informed consent, and surrogate-decision making.

"This is quite an honor and a pleasant surprise," said Sulmasy. "I testified in 2006 to a previous presidential ethics council, but I never expected to become a member of such a group."

Sulmasy, 54, came to the University of Chicago in July, 2009. He previously held faculty positions at New York Medical College, where he was director of the Bioethics Institute, and at Georgetown University, where he was director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics.

Sulmasy's medical and philosophical education, completed at the age of 39, took an unusual detour. After earning his AB in biochemistry (1978) and MD (1982) from Cornell University and completing the first year of his residency in general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University, he decided to join the Order of Friars Minor (commonly called the "Franciscans"). Members of this Catholic religious order follow the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.

To become a Franciscan, Sulmasy devoted two years to intensive spiritual training while continuing part-time medical work. He took his initial vows in 1985. These include poverty, chastity and obedience; his salary goes to the order and he receives a stipend. After joining the order, he completed his residency and fellowship training at Hopkins, where he became chief resident. He joined the faculty practice in internal medicine at Hopkins in 1989.

In 1991 he moved to Georgetown University, where he served on the medical school faculty and continued to practice medicine while completing his PhD in philosophy, working with professor Edmund Pellegrino, who subsequently was named to chair President George W. Bush's ethics council.

A prolific author and speaker, Sulmasy has served on numerous governmental advisory committees, including the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law and the Ethics Committee of the Empire State Stem Cell Board. He served as Chair of the Ethics Committee of the Society of General Internal Medicine and on the Board of Directors for the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, the National Institutes of Health, and the Italian Senate. He serves as on the editorial boards of several academic journals and is editor-in-chief of the journal, Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. He has lectured on ethics and medicine extensively throughout the United States and Europe.

He has also received many honors, among them being elected as a Fellow of the Hastings Center for Ethics and the Life Sciences in 2004, inducted into the The Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars in 2007, receiving the Pellegrino Medal from Samford University in Birmingham, AL, in 2009, and being awarded an honorary doctorate by New York Medical College, also in 2009.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, created in November 2009 and chaired by Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, replaced the President's Council on Bioethics, which was appointed by President Bush. That group initially was led by Leon Kass, MD, of the University of Chicago, and included cancer geneticist Janet Rowley, MD, also of the University. It succeeded the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.